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Weather Jeopardizes Fall Pumpkins; Apples Rebound From Last Year

As the official start to autumn approaches, apple orchards and pumpkin fields across the Northeast are now open and preparing for the fall flock of customers. However, while apple cider this year will be plentiful, pumpkin supplies will be sparse.

June typically marks the end of the school year and the start of summer for many, but for pumpkin farmers June is planting season.

Last June proved to be a bad time for planting as the month brought exceedingly wet and soggy weather to the Northeast.

"It was much wetter than average," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Edwards said. "A lot of locations received two to three times the average rainfall for the month."

This rain spawned mushy growing grounds, inhibiting pumpkin farmers from planting and, as a result, delaying the timeline for pumpkin growth.

"Because it was so wet, we got delayed getting into the fields. We normally plant in the middle of June, but we only planted a few before the rain," Chris Harner of Harner Farms in State College, Pa., said.

After receiving 8.14 inches of rain in June, the bulk of Harner's pumpkin crop were not planted until after July 4. This delay in planting caused the harvest to also be delayed and, as a result, some of the farm's pumpkins are still growing.

"Rain really screwed things up for us," Harner said.

Rain was not the only culprit postponing the pumpkin harvest though; the roller coaster summer weather in the Northeast also halted pumpkin growth.

Warmth typically aids in pumpkin development but the heat wave in mid-July brought many consecutive days with temperatures reaching above 90 degrees F and dry conditions to the region, which further harmed the fruit. Then, cool spells in late August and early September slowed down the pumpkin's progression even more.

"Such a crazy summer delays the maturity of pumpkins, pushing everything further back," Harner said.

While farmers wait to see what their patches will yield, it is certain that the weather will influence this season's pumpkin supply.

"It will impact the price a little, especially for people that have to buy a lot," Wayne Salisbury, owner of Salisbury Farm in Johnston, R.I., said. "The pumpkin supply is limited."

With already restricted numbers, the threat to the pumpkin harvest is far from over, as an early frost is predicted for much of the region.

Despite the gloomy news for pumpkin lovers, this year's apple season will be a booming one compared to last.

Last year, early 80-degree temperatures followed by a frost in March doomed the apple product, as the warmth allowed for early apple blossoms and shortly after the frost killed them. In some areas in the Northeast, the entire apple crop was ruined.

Due to the hampered season in 2012, orchards had an entire year to recover.

"Because the crop was allowed a year of rest, we have the biggest crop in years," Co-manager of Apple Acres Farm in South Hiram, Maine, Molly McKenna said.

Even though this year's crop is a vast improvement from last year's, apples were still impacted by the summer's periods of rain, heat and lower temperatures.

"The rainy weather accelerated the growth of the apples in the summer," Ann Harris of Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, Mass., said. "Then we hit a dry spell, so the growth slowed down."

Hot weather for overextended periods of time can sunburn apples and severely hurt the following apple season. Luckily, this summer's heat occurred earlier and, at that time, apples were still small and not as prone to sunburns, Harris explained.

Furthermore, according to McKenna, heat and humidity can cause apples to lose their crispness.

Similar to the pumpkin patches, rain influenced this season's apple supply, too.

"The heavy rain all summer creates problems with a skin disease called 'scab,'" said McKenna. While, sprays are made for it, rainy weather will almost always generate the disease in some of the season's crop.

Additionally, rain can sway the taste of apples. The drier the weather, the sweeter the apple. The wetter the weather, the more bland the apple.

As orchards brace for the influx of apple pickers this season, September weather has been conducive for the remainder of the apple-growing season.

With rainfall amounts about average so far this month, this autumn's apples are predicted to be rich in flavor and available in abundance.

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